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is production goes down best with a hearty round of applause for good intentions and a chaser that scants reflection, suffering as it does from a failure to engage larger issues without the redemption of intriguing characters. In the mid-1980s, longtime CIA operative and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega made the tactical mistake of standing on his hind legs in opposition to U.S. interests, so he was cut off at the knees by a savage December 1989 invasion of Panama (in violation of UN and OAS charters) that deliberately burned and bombed poor civilian neighborhoods so Panamanian troops would have no cover. As shown in the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Panama Deception, the media covered up the carnage and the reasons for the intervention, both of which typify U.S. foreign policy since WWII. There's no hint of that here.Instead, writer/director Glen Merzer focuses on a true story that is a singular aberration illustrating no general policy or practice. Ambitious NBC staffer Kayla (Lili Nadja Barsha) tries calling a man she had a drunken one-night stand with a year before for a favor, misdials, and reaches a complete stranger, Brian (Brett Thacher). Brian nonetheless agrees to pretend to be an American (aka Roger Sizemore) trapped in the downtown Hyatt during the invasion, so Tom Brokaw can interview him. A former English-lit major, Kayla smugly rationalizes that the "news" product is closer to the true experience of war because of their distance from it. Actors will appreciate how easily fame entraps Brian, and students of human nature may find humor in his concern for "the integrity" of his performance, but the prime mover for the charade is a flaky lower-level NBC functionary, undermining its import.The chopped, atemporal narrative that Merzer uses to magnify the incident's significance makes it hard to empathize with any of the characters. The play opens with domestic difficulties between Brian and his conventional wife Cindy (a one-note Tina Morasco) over his decision to expose the ruse, but these remain obscure until the second act. Thacher seems oblivious of how a conscience-stricken man willing to sacrifice family ties to blow the whistle would feel or behave, and neither Merzer's script nor direction provides much help. As in a morality play, each minor character has a dull designated function. As NBC prompter Arun Ram, Anjul Nigam reflects routine media deceitfulness. Brian Mulholland, as Brian's friend and attorney, and Claude Stuart, as a local deejay who lets Brian tell his story, reflect society's unwillingness to face unpleasant truths. Hugh Fitzgerald, as buddy Craig, shows too-passive acceptance of the status quo, and chronicles an emotional and physical deterioration Thacher never shows. What's missing, alas, is the spirit and tension that make theatre interestin

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